Sunday, April 29, 2007

IN DEFENSE OF REALITY TV

At one time I wrote a book with a background in community theatre. I went to the local theatre and interviewed the manager. He took me around and showed me what I needed to know and I made copious notes and soaked up the atmosphere. Ditto at the small newspaper office at which the hero would work. Both those careers were subsequently incorporated into AUDITION FOR DEATH.

Another time, I spent a day interviewing, with a tape recorder, a guy who paints murals on the sides of buildings. That one never made a book. I have talked to the man who hand carves the most beautiful duck decoys you will ever want to see (think museum, not duck pond), the guy who runs a local radio station, book store owners, graveside caretakers and the lady at the diner (where I learned about grease traps--don't ask.) And dozens of others. Policemen, detectives, coroners, doctors, vets., paddleboat captain…the list goes on.

Nowadays, the internet is very helpful when it comes to the million and one details needed in a work of fiction. With DSL, you can go from question to answer within seconds.

But there's another avenue to understanding people and their dreams and aspirations as well as job markets difficult to investigate with limited time and resources and that one is on your television screen.

Eli makes fun of me for watching reality TV. My husband rolls his eyes. But I watch, transfixed, as young women and/or men vie for $$ and prestige as the newest Coyote Girl (this time think sexy dancing on bar top plus being a crackerjack bartender) or the newest top model or top designer or top chef. There's the wanna be Pussycat Girl or the rap singer competition with Little Kim, or the best new comic. It goes on and on. Then there's 'Dirty Jobs," a show that has the host learning and performing a new unthinkable job every week. Well, someone has to clean up after someone else splatters their brains all over a wall. And sewers don't clean themselves, you know.

Add the young women wanting to marry a rich bachelor and believing true love can blossom in a fantasy world (atmosphere heavy on roses and hot tubs), singing competitions, people vying for the job of buying accessories for movie stars, forensic scientists and coroners explaining their jobs and how they reach their conclusions, medical shows about real people with bumps, lumps and mumps--well, you see where I am going, right?

I think I would watch a show where people learned how to do just about anything. It's like having a million jobs without the sore back and aching feet. I would watch people competing to work at a fast food restaurant so I could see what really goes on there. The best mortician contest. The best hairdresser. The best boat refinisher. I would watch how they train someone to be a cruise director or a fashion photographer or palace servant. A bartender. A train conductor, a caterer. I want to know how it all works.

The fact that so many of the people on these shows are young is a benefit for me. It's a refresher course on being twenty again, on being single, on being scared and overrun with emotions like greed and jealousy and ultimately, pain or euphoria. On thinking that winning will change your world or losing will destroy it. On remembering when I believed that if I wanted something bad enough I deserved to get it. On realizing how many people, on the cusp of glory, sabotage themselves with their own ego and fear.

And it's a cautionary lesson for our sisters, daughters and yes, our heroines. Here we are post feminism and are still raising girls who get by on their looks, who make lousy decisions based on emotions as though emotions are all that count. Girls who bypass talent and somehow start to believe in the power of wishful thinking and entitlement instead of the power of their brain, their work ethic, and their passion for what they do. It's the noble and the sleaze of everyday life with a smattering of workplace venues on which to draw.

Is it as good as spending a night at a bar with a bunch of rowdy drunks and girls dancing around atop a bar? No. Nothing beats first hand experience. Television can't give us the smells (probably a benefit in this example) or the experience of physically participating like the tastes or the feel of someone dumping beer on our head. But it beats many of the alternatives and when you add in the bonus of catching glimpses of human nature, it's not bad research.

As a fiction writer, I was at first dismayed when this current reality craze craze came along and I have to admit that I don't like the shows that concentrate on a family, esp., with children (they feel exploitive to me. The adult ones sometimes do, too, but they're adults, it's their problem.) I don't like to watch nannies or switched mates or people vying to stay in a house or on an island or win some guy in thirty days--that all bores me. I need a workplace, I need something to see that's outside my own life. I want to see people develop skills and find hidden talents and reservoirs of strength. I know how fiction works. I spend a great deal of my time creating it. It's these slices of other lives and careers that hook me.

What do you think?

Friday, April 27, 2007

History


Stop rolling your eyes; this isn’t what you think it is. I’m not preaching historical research.

I attended a local writer’s group last night. The title of the talk given by a member was “If not, who will”. It was of course about writing family stories or history. And that had me thinking about all the genres- not just memoir writing.

Writers put a little bit of history in everything they write. It doesn’t matter what you write – romance, sci-fi, westerns, or YA. In each project there is a scene, a scenario, a phrase that happened to you, a family member, or a friend. Something that is a part of your history.

Granted my dad wasn’t born in the 1800’s, but as a child he lived in a rural area where some things hadn’t moved ahead into the 20th century. His stories, on more than one occasion, have given fodder for a story or a scene in one of my books. Same with my in-laws who immigrated to the United States in the 50’s.

At a family reunion, on my mom’s side, there were stories told no one would believe except in fiction! Of course names are changed to protect the instigators!

Even things my children have done end up in a story. Our lives are our history. Incorporating the good times and the bad of our lives into our characters brings them to life for the reader.

Do you use people, personal situations, or phrases you’ve knew/heard in your books or stories? If not, why?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

If You Build It

One of my all-time favorite movies is Field of Dreams. It has everything I love in a movie: A young Kevin Costner (before he started making marathon-long movies you had to give up a whole day to watch), James Earl Jones (who doesn't love James Earl Jones's voice?!), baseball (hello? Baseball-central-family here), and a whole lot of inspiration. I can't imagine there's anyone out there who hasn't seen the movie, but just in case you've been living in a hole in the ground the past twenty years, here's the gist...

A thirty-something ex-hippy living with his wife and young daughter on a farm in Iowa hears a strange voice that urges him to plow under his crop and build a baseball diamond in its place. Everyone thinks he's crazy. Heck, even he thinks he's crazy, yet the voice is so strong, he does it without knowing why. Thus starts the mystery of...If you build it, he will come.

I love this movie because I think many of us have experienced the same thing - although on a very different level. Every time you make a decision that sets your life on a new path, you're building something without knowing the end result. For me, it's been writing. With each word I write, I'm building a book. And the promise at the end of all my hard work is a publishing contract; seeing my name on the cover of a book. I could literally be Kevin Costner in my own personal movie. Only in my field of dreams, the voice would whisper, If you write it, you will sell.

Wow. So simple. And yet, how many writers write without reaching that ending goal of selling? Thousands.

It's not enough to simply do. You have to continue. Grow. Change. Revamp. Do again. Over and over and over and over until you figure out the mystery of that whispering voice. You have to go beyond what you think is enough. If you build it, he will come is pretty vague. Did Kevin Costner's character skimp on the construction of the field? Save money by creating a dirt infield instead of grass? Skip the bleachers or the backstop or figure, "Hey, I created a diamond, I don't really need to plow under more corn to build the whole outfield?" Nope. He put everything he had into that field without knowing what would happen in the end or why he was even supposed to do it in the first place. And he didn't stop there. He left his family and farm and set out on a cross-country trip because somewhere inside he knew just building the field wasn't enough. There was more he was supposed to do.

If you write it, you will sell. For most of us, that is the end goal we're striving for. I've met writers who think simply by writing they will reach that ultimate goal of publication. Some have natural talent which makes writing easy for them, therefore they don't think they have to work as hard as the rest of us. Some are simply arrogant. These writers are convinced everything they write is gold. Their work doesn't change and grow over the years. They believe every ounce of praise they receive and reject any criticism as hogwash. They are the ones who know everything, who get bored easily with their projects, who skip over details and send their work out convinced it's the next NYT Bestseller, then question why they aren't yet published. These writers are all over the loops, they're the ones asking questions and seeking advice. They're in every chapter, at every conference you attend. But the reality in this business is unless you are constantly learning, changing, growing, challenging yourself from book to book, applying what you learn in one manuscript to the next, and are editing, editing, editing to make your current work the best it can be, you will most likely never reach your ending goal of publication. That voice is still going to be whispering in your head, telling you to plow under your corn, and you aren't going to have a clue what the heck it means you should do next.

Writing is not a simple career. I think most of us know that. The more you write, the harder it is to do. Plots get more complicated, characters become more rich. If you're doing it right, you're striving to make each book better than the last. Each of us are writers because we love the written word, and we each have our own personal field of dreams. But simply building it isn't enough. You have to continue to work for what you really want. Never give up changing and growing as a writer.

The tagline for Field of Dreams is: If you believe in the impossible, the incredible can happen. I would amend that for us writers: If you strive to change the impossible, the incredible can happen.

What do you think? Is simply writing enough? Or is there more to this whole writing gig than just putting your butt in the chair everyday? And while we're at it, tell me what you've done to become a better writer this week.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FOSTER DOGS AS MODELS FOR HEROES ...

Another one of my foster dogs was adopted on Monday. Of course I cried. Tears of joy. Tears of hope. Tears of loss.

And I thought again about Becky's recent post that writing her characters through conflicts and loss and pain was so difficult. Wow, can I relate to that! When I joined RWA about fourteen years ago, I wanted my story characters to go from "boy meets girl" to "happily ever after" and not have all the trauma and drama in between.

Even when I realized I wasn't going to sell a manuscript without a conflict that carried through 300+ pages, I had a hard time tormenting my characters. Would I want my best friend to catch her husband cheating? Would I want a sibling to lose their business profits to a shady accountant? Wait, I have a sibling who is a shady accountant – just kidding!

So I sprinkled in a little more conflict. Not enough? Alright, I layered the trauma a bit deeper. Still not enough? Do I really have to take away what means the most to my characters to get that emotional punch? But I don't like conflict and I don't want my characters to suffer!

Then I started working at the local Humane Society. Within a week, I had my first foster dog. A cute little Llahso Apso mix whose badly damaged eye had to be surgically removed. Next came an energetic Terrier with a broken leg that had been left untreated for months. Then two beautiful, overgrown puppies with kennel cough and not much training. Another young male going crazy in confinement and fearful of every new experience. A sweet, older girl drifting deeper into melancholy with each day spent in a kennel. Who knows what traumas they endured before they arrived at the shelter? Yet each of these doggies that someone abandoned or surrendered blossomed into loving companions.

Did they have conflict in their lives? Yep. Lose what they valued most? Probably. Give up on life or lose their ability to love? Nope.

Finally, the "aha!" moment whanged me up side of the head. This enduring spirit, this hope and determination even when all the world seems to have turned against you, is also what makes a reader connect with characters on an emotional level and root for the hero and heroine to win that happily ever after.

If I can invest a piece of my heart in the beautiful spirit of these wonderful animals, I can write a conflict for my characters that challenges them (and me) to dig deeper into their emotions and uncover the core of strength and pure love that every true hero and heroine possesses. My foster dogs can be models for my heroes and heroines!

The house is quieter tonight, even though there are still four dogs with me (three who are officially mine and a foster dog I've been bringing home at night to ease her transition back to the shelter). Perhaps we all feel the loss, even as we give hopeful thanks that another one of our beloved furry companions has connected with a forever family to love him. So I'll wipe away my tears, say a prayer for his highest and greatest good, and do it all again tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

To-Do Tuesdays: Conferences and Crickets

Chirp. Churp. Chirp. Churp. Chirp. That sound you hear? That's the crickets in my in-box crying out for lack of chapter member news. Hopefully, y'all are well on your way to meeting your weekly goals, and can report in on that!

Last Tuesday, our chapter held our monthly meeting. Plans for both the summer retreat and the fall conference continue to move forward. The fall conference is going to focus on incorporating realism into our crime/suspense/jeopardy scenes. A line-up of experts from several branches of law enforcement will walk us through a hypothetical crime scene (crafted by chapter members), with each speaker talking about what his or her role typically is and the procedure followed. Intrigue Author Alice Sharpe will moderate. Be looking for an email about conference committee soon! The conference date is Saturday, October 6. As always, we'll have goody bags for participants and raffle baskets!

Speaking of conferences, the registration for the biggie, RWA nationals, looks to be huge this year, with the main hotel already selling out. The conference itself still has tickets, but expect them to go fast. But, what to do if you're not a 2,000+ writers in one building kind of girl (or guy) but you'd still like to improve your craft? Like our fall conference, many chapters host conferences. In fact, if you're a multi-genre author, seeking out a smaller conference may enable you to go to conferences for each genre, or to attend multi-genre regional conferences that speak to your many interests.

Coming up fast, Write On, Vancouver is a pleasant train ride (or drive) across the border in Canada. This workshop offers noted Writer's Digest Columnist Nancy Kress, so it's ideal for those multi-genre writers. It's May 4-5, but if you're overwhelmed by Spring Fever or just got a nice tax return, at $132 (with the late fee included), this is a nice little impromptu treat. But register today!

Also fast approaching, Romancing the Rockies is another great use for those tax refund dollars, and Southwest Airlines has been running VERY nice airfare lately between PDX and Denver. May 11-12 in Denver, this conference features Susan Wiggs and an all-star line-up of Editors and Agents. At $215, you can get editor/agent appointments with many of the same folks you'll see at Nationals.

If you're looking for something beyond the typical conference, Novelist Boot Camp should be right up your alley. Learn the art of "creative discipline" with Todd and enjoy the Virginia coast in the spring. May 25-27 in Surry, VA. At $100-$165, this conference is worth the cross-country plane ride. Email djeww_crw at hotmail dot com (fill in the email address with the appropriate characters--trying to protect Ms. Jefferies from Spam Bots).

In June, another cross-country trip is well worth the $$$. Deborah Dixon is presenting her renown workshop on Going the Distance: Big Black Moments and Book in a Day in Albany, New York, June 1-2. At $85-95, this is a STEAL. Fly directly into Albany on most major airlines.

A little closer to home, the CBC RWA offers the perfect conference for multi-genre writers with Murder in the Grove. June 8-9, 2007. At $15-125 this offers a range of pricing options to suit different budgets and Boise is within driving distance. This conference features a number of mystery and romance editors and agents and sounds like a lot of fun.

Also within pleasant driving distance, the PNWA conference is another ideal destination for multi-genre writers. Held in Seattle, July 26-29, this conference features many specialty workshops, J.A. Jance and a great line-up of editors and agents.

So, how are your goals coming? And what are YOUR summer goals? Do share! Save us all from an attack of the Deadly Crickets! (Another entry in horror stories for writers, by Alice Sharpe, et. al).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

REWRITES

REWRITES

I have to tell you. I have never dreaded rewrites.

For me, rewrites have always been the time for perfecting things. Time for grooming narrative and spicing up word choice, trying to make prose that sings rather than hums. Juicing up verbs, weeding out adverbs, looking for repetitions (Like using some form of the word "look" four times in one paragraph. Not that I ever have…)

Time for weeding out orphan words left over from changes made during the process. You know, you write, "He walked across the kitchen and threw the toaster." You change it to, "He threw the toaster." Then later in rewrites you find you left an orphaned word and your sentence now reads, "He walked threw the toaster." (Paty and Danita, you are probably rolling your eyes about now as this is the same example I used the other night during our car ride to the meeting. I am too brain dead to think of a better one. If any of you have discovered something more amusing in your own writing, please, share it.)

Time to make sure the dialogue fits. The scenes vibrate with energy. Making sure love scenes are exciting or poignant, chase scenes are scary, death scenes are emotional. And most importantly, until the last page, time to make sure the tension level is never dropped without being picked up again. It's a bouncing ball -- keep it in motion.

Time to catch inconsistencies. Is your character the same age throughout? I have a character named Shen Kuai in my current WIP. Half the time I type in Kuai Shen instead. Spell check will not find this without some suggestions from me for word search. Plus, do the dates of past happenings make sense? Is the beach always a crescent? Does someone shrink? Do they start out with glasses and half way through, lose them? Is that dog in the beginning still around in the end? If someone was cut or burned, do they have bruises and scabs to show for it?

Time to make sure the personality of a character doesn't change without cause, i.e. a timid woman acting audacious with no provocation. A sour person turning sweet just because it fits your plot and not because it fits them. This is also the opportunity to make sure your descriptions of people actually match the character of the person being described. Or if they are at odds, using that to enhance your description.

Time to cut unnecessary words, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes pages. A friend of mine admitted yesterday that one of her books was running seriously long. She looked for ways to shorten. She was horrified to discover one entire chapter could be summed up, more or less, in a sentence. And this woman has published dozens of books, she is no novice. I think her experience is a good one to keep in mind as you polish your work. Does this word belong in here? This sentence? This paragraph, this scene, this chapter?

Time to look for misspellings your word check will never find. My name, Alice, becomes "lice" if I mistype. I bet we've all had some funny encounters along this vein. Again, brain dead, can't think of any.

Those are the reasons I have always enjoyed rewrites and have not understood how other writers dreaded them so. Afterall, do I want to send my baby out into the world with a torn dress and scuffed shoes? With ratty hair? With jam on her face? Of course not.

But not any more. Now I understand what many of you have always known: Rewrites can be tortuous, never-ending affairs. I currently feel like my book is an ocean of water behind a fragile dike. There's a hole right here. I stick in a few words to plug it and Ooph! another hole pops out over there. More words. Another hole. I am running as fast as I can, plugging holes with words, words, words…………

Ack!!!

This time the rewrite encompasses major character changes and plot issues. It involves pages of notes about who killed who and why and who knew and who suspected who because without a very clear understanding off all that underpinning, the characters can't react in a semi-believable way. I did a certain amount of writing off the cuff. Sticking in a murder or a chase or a what have you here and there without seriously, and I emphasis the word SERIOUSLY, considering the ramifications.

So, now I am left scrambling to make sense of what happened. Making sure my characters have enough information to figure things out for themselves. Making sure one set of bad guys don't trip over the other set. My deadline has come and gone, I can hardly believe this project will ever be over.

But it will. In the end, the book I send will be slightly different than the book they bought and slightly different still from the book I've been working on for four months. Will it be better? Is this book so challenging because I stretched or because I flubbed?

I have no idea and no way of knowing until my editor reads it. If she sends it back for rewrites, I may shoot myself.

Next Halloween, let's stay up all night by the fire telling horror stories. We won't talk about the hitchhiker with a chainsaw or the young girl roaming the hillsides looking for her murderer. Instead, we'll tell about the book that never ended… and how we rewrote it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Inspiration

Sorry for the delay on my post! Crazy day at work. Is it time to go home yet?

I've been thinking a lot about something lately - inspiration. I've been trying to determine where I get my inspiration so I can figure out how to manipulate it to fit my needs. It seems I get a lot of my inspiration lately from people I know or interact with. Friends I talk too, cute guys, evil people who are mean in the grocery stores - things these people say or do is fodder for my writing brain. It seems that real life people are leaking their way into my stories more and more. Part of me likes it because it's easier to characterize them, but it has it's downsides too.

I find myself writing scenes involving people I know, just to get things going. Nothing evil, don't worry (muhahahahahahaha). But they have nothing to do with my WIP. I tell myself, hey, writing is writing. But 10 random scenes of things that my real life has sparked, isn't helping me with my book.

So it seems that finding a balance is difficult. How much inspiration do I pull from real life? Or when does it become too real and difficult to seperate the characters from the people? For me it's still pretty light comparisons for characters to real life, but I've seen other people mention on blogs and loops that they seem to be modeling every hero after their husband or every villain after their mother-in-law.

Do you face this in your writing? How do you deal with keeping them seperate? Or do you purely create everything about your characters? And I understand that this post probably makes no sense, I'm work on a sleep deficit. And I've had to fix so many grammar errors, I'm scared to reread this later and see what I missed. Eeeek!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tooting Our Horns: The Finish Line

Welcome to this week's installment of Tooting Our Horns Thursday where I share all the writerly goings-on in our Chapter Members lives. This week I've got NYT bestsellers, a good review, a member question, a bunch of finishers, and a question of the day.
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Lisa Jackson Creates "Absolute Fear" on the Bestseller Lists

Chapter Member and NYT Bestseller Lisa Jackson has a new release out. Absolute Fear follows last year's bestseller, Shiver. Fans of these connected books will be pleased to know that several favorite characters are returning. Lisa's latest news release provided this blurb of the book:

"Once again Detectives Reuben Montoya and Rick Bentz follow the trail of a serial killer. Each victim in a series of bizarre murders is left with a tattoo and a message in blood. The evidence points to Cole Dennis, the lover of Eve Renner, a woman who grew up at Our Lady Of Virtues Mental Hospital, and knows its horrible secrets. Is Cole her lover or her enemy? Time is running out." You can read an excerpt from the book here.

And, if you read the book, you won't want to miss Lisa's Absolute Fear contest.

Shiver is now available in paperback. Shiver and Absolute Fear are part of a connected book series which includes Hot Blooded, Cold Blooded, The Night Before, and The Morning After. If you like to read your books in order, I'm pretty sure that Hot Blooded begins this series.
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Karen Duvall Receives Stellar Review for Desert Guardian

Congrats to Karen who shared her great review from Romance of the Heart Magazine. The enthusiastic reviewer declared, "
Desert Guardian captivates the reader from the opening chapter, with a mystery/suspense driven plot worthy of reading." Way to go Karen! You can follow the link for the full-text of this review, which is noteworthy for its thoroughness. It goes far beyond the usual blurb and really showcases the intricacies of Karen's unique plot.
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Marathon Members Turn Slew of WIP's into Finished MS's!

"The End" has become the favorite phrase of several chapter members. Alice Sharpe recently finished her latest offering for Intrigue, Avenging Angel. Alice is eager to start her next WIP, and I'm the sure the rest of us can't wait to hear what it will be. Other chapter members have also recently finished WIP's. Jenni Gilliam finished her second WIP and is already at work at on number three while she finished edits. Danita Cahill also finished a WIP and is closing in on draft three. Way to go ladies!

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Reader Question: How to Break-Up with Your Publisher

A chapter member sent me a question this week and asked if I would answer it on the blog. "How do I break-up with my publisher?"

My two-cents: (with the caveat that this is my opinion and is in no way intended to be legal advice or a substitute for representation). Unfortunately, this is an all-too common scenario as authors try to move on from micro-presses or presses that no longer meet their needs. This question points to the absolute necessity of re-negotiating the terms of the contract BEFORE you sign it. Unagented authors need to be particularly wary of contracts. My advice is to never sign a contract without having a literary attorney review the terms. Why go to that expense, especially in the face of uncertain royalties? Simple economics. If you are signing a 3, 5, 7, or even 10 year rights agreement, a lot can change during that time period. Your career goals may shift and what looked like "no biggie" then can make a huge dent in your ability to market yourself and achieve your goals. A literary attorney can help you see past the stars of "they want me!" to "red flag!" as they identify the "biggies" lurking in the contract. It can save you much time and money in the long-run. Simply put, breaking a contract is expensive, time-consuming, and potentially risky. If your rights are still under contract and you don't have an "escape" or "reversion" clause to point to, don't even think about breaking a contract without talking to an experienced literary attorney. Even with law school under my belt, there is no way I would ever think about tackling a complex contractual issue like this without legal representation. If you are searching for a lower-priced attorney in this area, check out Lawyers for the Arts. They can help you find a referral.
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Question of the Day:

Page Challenge! How many pages did you accomplish this week? Did you meet any personal goals this week? Share your minor successes with us today! Want to make a pledge for the weekend or next week?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Soundtrack to Novels

I love music.

When I was a teenager, I would jack up my "ghetto-blaster" until my bedroom walls shook (a fact that drove my mother crazy, no doubt). I would gather my friends and hit the small venues like La Luna or bigger ones like The Salem Armory to watch my favorite punk and ska bands play.

I don't go to concerts anymore, but I still love music. In fact, I love to write to music. Have you heard that Kenny Chesney song, "I Go Back"? If not, the basic premise is that every time he hears a particular song, it sends him back into a memory.

There are certain songs that I feel connected to. I'm one of those types who looks for deeper meaning in any song (though I have to admit, there is little or no meaning in rap or pop music IMHO). I love country music because each song tells a story and it evokes emotions that I can relate to.

There are also certain songs that I feel are connected to the stories I write. WHEN I become a published author, I'm thinking of posting a "soundtrack" tab on my website, listing the songs that inspired me during my journey of creating these paper people.

But, since I'm not published, nor do I have a website, I'll give it to you instead:

First and unfinished novel
  • Killing Me Softly by The Fugees
  • Hazard by Richard Marx
  • Again by Janet Jackson
  • Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks
  • Cowboy, Take Me Away by the Dixie Chicks
  • Wicked Game by Chris Issac

Second Novel

  • Hips Don't Lie by Shakira
  • I Don't Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith
  • How to Save a Life by The Frey
  • Top of the World by the Dixie Chicks
  • It's Time (album) Michael Buble

Third Novel

  • Afterglow (album) by Sarah McLaughlin
  • Wreck of the Day (album) by Anna Nalick
  • Foiled (album) by Blue October

Fourth Novel

  • Stand Still, Look Pretty (album) by The Wreckers
  • The Hits (album) by Garth Brooks
  • Honky Tonk Badonkadonk by Trace Adkins
  • When You Kiss Me Like This by Toby Keith
  • Jagged Little Pill (album) by Alanis Morissette
  • Under the Pink (album) by Tori Amos

Am I the only freak that does this or do any of you do this, too? (Ha Ha)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

To-Do Tuesdays: Meeting Day!

RWA meeting day always feels like the first day of school, or picture day. When I'm not going, I'm vaguely wistful, and when I am going, I'm filled with giddy anticipation. Of course, I'd be a little bit more giddy if I had something to report . . . like oh say a finished WIP. Alas.

But, no matter, I'm still excited about the great meeting we have planned for tonight. As mentioned last week, the Marvelous Christine Scheel will be sharing her thoughts on grammar and diction for writers @ 7:00 p.m. in the library.

Also on our Agenda: plans for the Summer retreat, the need to audit the books, and the Fall Conference. The conference needs a committee. And . . .oh crap! Someone who remembers who she was going to call. So add a flogging to the agenda. With a wet noodle. Crap. Okay. Moving on, we also need to discuss officers for next year.

I'm all for making our current slate of officers lifetime officers, but they might have other ideas. So what makes a good officer? And why do people volunteer to be officers in an organization like this? I'm always in awe of the people who donate so much time to RWA--even those NYT bestsellers and very hungry unpublished authors.

Thursday, I'll have a line-up of good news to share, but today, I'll leave you with links to two RWA members who have given A LOT back to the organization, and who have answered the call to serve again, and again.

Jennifer Crusie needs no introduction, but her blog, Argh Ink, might. Her two most recent posts have been absolute gems. Check out her passionate defense of a broad definition of "romance," and the "glittery hoo-ha theory."

Trish Milburn is one of the VERY hungry unpublished writers who have given mightly to RWA. She's edited the e-notes, and is now a PRO liason on RWA's board. Her utter delight at going to NYC for a board meeting won my heart. But, in addition to the hours and hours she gives RWA, she's also a multi-time Golden Heart Finalist, including TWO finals this year in the YA category. Check out Trish's blog as well!

Enjoy your meeting day! Even if you can't join us tonight, I hope you'll share our giddy anticipation in spirit!

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Few Words about Partials

To blog or not to blog....

Of course I'll choose to blog, although I am unprepared and have no real subject matter. So, how about if I just ramble for a bit about submitting partials?

Yes? Okay, good. Thank you.

I (finally) got the partial of Vanishings polished and popped into an envelope, ready to go to my dream agent. I stayed up late getting it ready and was interrupted only twice while in the printing process: Once by a cranky child. Once by a wrong number. That phone call went something like this:
"Hello, Jennifer?"
"You must have the wrong number."
"Could you listen for a minute? Hello. Hellllooooo? Is anyone there? Could you listen for a minute?"
Weird, huh? And what does it have to do with partials? Nothing. Not one thing. But the writer/reporter in me was curious about what the guy wanted me to listen to. I mean was he going to talk dirty? Or did he just need someone to talk to? I didn't give him a chance to do either. It was too weird. I hung up and took the phone off the hook.

So, anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, the submission process. My chapters are short so I'm sending the first 54 pages, instead of the standard 50 pages, or first three chapters. My synopsis turned out to be seven double-spaced pages -- I'm also sending that. The query letter is short, barely a single page with just enough pitch to (hopefully) entice.

Everything is printed on the "best quality" setting. The query letter is on expensive, water-mark paper. I printed out address labels so it looks professional. It's ready to go.

So why am I yammering on about it here instead of dashing off to the post office to send it on its way? Nerves, maybe. It's been awhile since I submitted anything to an agent. Also this is not requested material.

Which brings me to my first question: If your partial -- or full-- got requested, do you write "Requested material" on the envelope? Do you write the words in red? Bold them? Highlight them in flouresant green or yellow? Do you think any of it makes much of a difference? I got around all that by writing, "I'd love to say this is
REQUESTED MATERIAL but, dang it, I'd be lying if I did." I'm hoping this particular agent has a sence of humor. If she doesn't, she's not the agent for me anyway.

Other questions: Do you use a fastener to clip together your pages? Do you use a giant paper clip or one of those black and silver clippy things? What is the quickest, and slowest response times you've had when sending a partial by snail mail? Do you chant anything over the package for luck before slipping it into the mail slot? If an agent says query first by snail mail, do you go ahead and send a partial anyway? How many agents do you usually query at once? How do you keep track of your submissions? And lastly, could you listen for a minute?
Ha!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Huh. Who'd have thought.

Sorry if my blog reads a bit vacant today, but that's on account of my vacant brain being too foggy with a cold to think. Dang it. I thought I'd dodged the crud-bullet, but apparently not. I hate being sick. I just started a new workout program last week and I'm eager to get back to it, but I'm feeling weak as a kitten.

I joined a new gym because they have a good boxing program. Yeah, boxing. I've always loved cardio kickboxing and have tried for the past 2 1/2 years to find a decent class, but all the classes I found in Bend suck, or they only have them once a week. I've tried spinning (boring), body sculpting (boring), yoga (boring), step aerobics (fun but it's a rare class to find here), and there's nothing quite like putting on a fat pair of boxing gloves and hitting something really, really hard.

Okay, so I've learned something new about myself that's a little disturbing. I get a rush from punching things. It feels damn good to release all that pent-up tension that builds and builds throughout the week. Now, I don't like to hit people, but I have to say there's a certain satisfaction in punching the pads the instructor holds for us. He's just a kid, no more than 18, but he's a good instructor. He kick boxes professionally so he's teaching the real thing, not just shadow boxing, which is what I'm used to. He puts us through our paces, too, and sometimes you kind of wish he'd just hold that pad a bit farther away from his face so that you could get a good shot at his chin!

The point of my rambling is that no matter how hold we are, we can still be surprised by what we learn about ourselves. It's kind of a eureka moment. I'm not an overly aggressive or violent person, but put some gloves on me and look out! I've learned I need to release my stress physically and boxing helps me do that. It makes sense.

Have you learned anything surprising about yourself? Do you ever practice this mode of self-discovery on your characters? Do you find it cathartic to learn something new about them as they learn it themselves?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tooting Our Horns Thursday: Group Celebration!

Alright. So maybe the name "Tooting Our Horns Thursday" needs to go. After all, who wants to "toot" all day? I LOVE alliteration, but maybe, Celebration Thursdays would work better? Regardless of WHAT we call it, under our new "bringing the newsletter to the blog" plan, Thursdays are the day when I'll be sharing member news. Tuesdays were all about chapter news & RWA events, but today is all about YOU!

I admit it, I love a good juicy piece of gossip--especially of the warm and fuzzy variety--so I'm thrilled with today's truckload of good news. I've got contest wins, a book sale, a book preview. and a question of the day, so read on!
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FIRST LINE CONTEST FINALIST!

Unless you've been shanghaied by the muse and taken on a trip to Siberia, you should know our chapter boasts BOTH a Rita Finalist (Terry McLaughlin) and a Golden Heart Finalist (Elisabeth Naughton). But, Eli's all set for banner 2007, with a second big contest win! She's a finalist in Karin Tabke's First Line Contest! Not only was she brave enough to submit the first line of her WIP for this American Idol-style elimination contest that began with 70 first lines, but she went on to survive all 13 weeks of the contest to become one of five finalists! Her prize is worth all the nail-biting, though, as her first 10 pages will be read by Hilary Sares from Kensington.

If you click the link, you can read Eli's wining entry: She's #1 of the finalists, starting with the line: She'd become nothing more than a common thief. All of the entries in the contest are well worth a read, though, as Karin's contest demonstrates the importance of making every line and every word count, especially in the opening scenes of your novel.

Congrats to Eli! You continue to inspire all of us!
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THIRD BOOK SALE!

Paty Jager is also having a banner year! She recently announced the sale of her third manuscript to Wild Rose Press. A Perfectly Good Nanny is Paty's first contemporary romance, but like her historicals, it still features a Western setting. Paty's second release, Gambling on an Angel, received its first review: Romance Junkies gave it 4.5 Blue Ribbons and a glowing review.

Soon, Perfectly Good Nanny will have its own set of Perfectly Glowing Reviews, but until then, Paty has offered us a sneak peek at the book:

Brock Hughes is a man juggling a mortgaged ranch, a preteen daughter, and a toddler. He’s lost two wives, one to a tragic accident and the other to the bright lights of the city. That’s the trouble with women. Sooner or later, by design or by fate, they leave a man high and dry. He doesn’t want another woman in his family’s life. But... he needs one.

Carina Valencia
is a school teacher running from guilt. She can’t accept a miscarriage and a failed marriage weren’t her fault. Wanting to leave behind her clinging mother and smothering friends, her best friend talks her into joining a nanny agency. Carina requests an assignment as far away from the city as possible.


She arrives on Brock’s doorstep determined to pull her life back together. Only he swears he didn't hire her. However, the children are clearly in need of a woman’s touch. She’ll not let another child down.

I can't wait to read the whole thing! Congrats Paty! Your success at marketing your books is a great lesson!

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QUESTION OF THE DAY

Do unresolved plots drive you batty? A certain NYT bestseller is finally writing westerns again, so I sat down to her latest with a sense of anticipation and glee. Unfortunately, I ended up throwing the book across the room with the final page because so much was left hanging and/or just plain dropped. Is this just me or do dropped plot threads also make you want to hurl books?
Do share, and remember to share YOUR good news by sending me an email. It can be a finished manuscript, a first draft, a contest final, meeting a personal goal, or other triumph!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Do Ostrichs Really Bury Their Heads In The Sand? Or Is It Just Me?

I don’t know why it is that every time I sit down to write the brilliant idea I have spinning through my brain it turns out too tragic and I quit.

What do I mean by “tragic”? Well, I mean, I can’t seem to keep what starts out fun and emotionally on the lighter side, light. The story always takes a turn to the “dark side”. I feel like Darth Vadar is standing there with that other creepy guy looking over my shoulder as I type and they’re whispering in my ears to come join the dark side; but then inside me there’s something pulling me to stay happy and light. Ugh! It’s so frustrating.

When the story starts to get dark I refuse to wander down that path. I don’t want to find out why it’s more tragic for my characters than I first thought. I guess I’m just not willing to go down the hard road with my characters and help them through to the happily ever after ending. It’s like I won’t be able to handle the pain and suffering along the way and I don’t want to deal with the grieving they’re going to have to go through before it all gets good again.

When I first started reading romance novels I didn’t realize they all had to have a happy ending; so, when things got a little rocky in the story, like they always do, I’d skip to the end of the book and read the last chapter, just to make sure that everything was going to turn out the way I thought it should; because, if it wasn’t going to end my way, I wasn’t going to waste my time going through what I now know is the “black moment” and drag my heart and soul through the torture. Does that make sense?

What I want to know is this… How do I get past this battle of not wanting to face the hard part, the part where you, the writer, are ripping the guts outta yer characters and putting them through emotional hell? Did you find it hard to torture them when you first started writing? I mean, I couldn’t even get through one of my favorite author’s books (titled “The One You Won’t Read, or The One Becky Won’t Read” by Eli) because I’m afraid of the torture the characters are going to have to deal with.

Now I know what you’re all thinking. I’m a chicken sh*t, right? Yeah, you’d be right about that for sure. But it’s a block for me and it keeps popping up in my YA that I’ve been outlining. The fun moments have been easy to outline, but then I get to the part where my little character is going to have to deal with some heavy emotional stuff and she’s all alone, so I stop there and keep it in my brain. I won’t write it down, because if I do, then she’ll have to start suffering and I’ll have to deal with the emotions too. Ack! I suck at that. I don’t do painful emotions. Sweep it under a big ol’ rock and move on. Forget about it. That’s my motto. Oh, so is this one… Maybe it will go away. Five dangerous words. Right?

Okay, now that I’ve laid my twisted soul out here for all of you to gawk at, is there any help for me? Will I ever get past this emotional stumbling block? Maybe I need therapy myself, first? (Duh. Ya think?) Maybe I should just write it all out anyway and if my character and I can’t make it through we’ll go insane together? I don’t know. I’m just scared. Of everything. And even though I’ve been given great supportive advice from the best of writers and women, I’m still screwed. LOL

Do you ever get emotional blocks? Come on; tell the truth. Please.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

To Do Tuesdays: Chapter on the Move

Welcome to the first "To-do Tuesday." This is the space where we'll be sharing news of the chapter: speakers, events, and general RWA goings-on. On Thursday, we'll be sharing "Tooting Our Horn Thursday" with news of individual chapter members and their successes. (Of course, if you've got a better name for these columns, please share it!). My e-mail folder of blog news has tumbleweeds roaming around, so please send me your news! It doesn't have to be pretty or even in complete sentences. Heck, just send me a link if you please and I'll do the rest.

First up today: Our next chapter meeting is a week from today! We meet at the Salem Public Library at 7:00 p.m., where the marvelous Christine Scheel will be sharing her thoughts about the craft of writing. Christine is a long-time chapter member, but she's a new Oregonian. Christine is in the process of finishing her much-anticipated move to the Oregon Coast. A multi-published author, Christine's most recent book, The Tiger's Lady, arrived on shelves last month. She has written numerous other Regency and Historical Romances, and has been active in the Beau Monde chapter. We're pretty sure Christine will be leaving her period costumes at home, but her talk promises to be entertaining and informative!

Next up: Buy your tickets now for the 2007 Portland Reader's Luncheon on Saturday, April 28th. This annual event is sponsored by the Portland RWA chapter and the keynote speech will be given by bestselling author, Sherrilyn Kenyon. This event is geared not just towards writers, but towards all readers and lovers of romantic fiction. The cost of the luncheon is $35, but in addition to great food at the Governor's Hotel, you also get admission to the book signing, book fair, chances at door prizes. Many authors will also have "goody baskets" up for raffle. From our chapter, Paty Jager, Chris Young, and Alice Sharpe plan to attend. Any others that I've missed?

I'm hoping to get more information before the 28th from these authors about what their goody baskets will contain, which new releases they'll be signing, and which authors they'll be lining up to get a book from! If I get these juicy tidbits, I'll post them in an another edition of To-Do Tuesdays, or they can share in the comments. Who else is planning to attend? Anyone been to prior luncheons? Anyone have suggestions for what our authors could put in their baskets?

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of To-Do Tuesday!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Character Flaws

Yes, we all have them. Some people more than others. :) People with multiple flaws - do you find them interesting or over the top?

What I’m getting at is- Do both your main characters have to be flawed or tortured to make a reader want to read about them? Can one character be “normal”? Okay maybe their flaw is too virtuous. :) Lately all I’ve heard about is having a character with flaws so he can be redeemed. But is that really what makes or breaks a book?

Can you have one main character without a flaw or tortured past and still make them interesting?

Janet Burroway author of “Writing Fiction” states: “…characters should be round rather than flat.” “A round character is many faceted and is capable of change.”

Do you want to read about a heroine who is grieving over the death of a younger sibling, her parent’s divorce, and her last boyfriend’s infidelity? She has issues and then some! There are many people in real life with this much going on – but is it necessary to pile it on characters to make them sympathetic? Is giving her all of these past problems overkill? Wouldn’t you, even as you sympathize with her, root for the “normal” hero who is trying to cope with loving this person and helping her work through all this baggage?

Dwight V. Swain in “The Techniques of a Selling Writer” asks the question, “How do you make a character fascinate a reader?” His answer is a couple pages long, but this is what caught my interest- “You shackle him(reader) to the character with chains of envy. You make the character someone who does what the reader would like to do, yet can’t.” And he goes on to list the items most people envy: Courage, Imagination, and attaining the unattainable.

These attributes reflect the heroine in the last two books I read. She’s a cat-burglar, kind of like a female McGyver and she’s trying to go straight for the man in her life. I plan to read every book I can about this character. I like her spunk and wit. Oops! That’s coming up!

Donald Maas in “Writing the Breakout Novel” says this about what makes a character larger than life. “Strength- what makes characters broadly appealing is not their weaknesses but their strengths, not their defeats, but their triumphs.” Also “Inner Conflict – struggling to attain the impossible.” And “Self-Regard – Their emotions matter to them…. They embrace life.” And last but not least “Wit and Spontaneity – They do and say things ordinary people would not.” He also adds there are two character qualities “that leave a deeper more lasting impression of a character than any other: Forgiveness and self-sacrifice.”

I’m reading a series where the hero is “normal” well he’s a billionaire, but aside from that, he really doesn’t have any flaws. (I’d fall in bed with him any time) He is trying to help the woman he loves (the cat-burglar above) to go straight. He is forgiving her past and puts losing lots of money on the line to help her (self-sacrifice). I like his solidness and his being there for the heroine no matter what. As yet, (two books) I haven't found a single flaw in him, but he's one of the drooliest heroes I've ever read!

The hero in my current WIP is like that. He knows he wants the heroine. And he is willing to go to the ends of the earth to help her realize she wants and needs him too. He doesn’t have a tortured past. He has a past of loss which relates to the heroine and he has a need for answers, just as she does. But he doesn’t have any flaws – again – I’d fall in bed with him any time! LOL

I hear writers/readers say they love tortured/flawed heroes because they like to see them redeemed. I guess if we all liked the same type of hero, we’d all be writing the same kind of book and they would eventually get boring.

Anyway, do you like flawed/tortured characters or can there be a “Normal”main character in a book and you still love the story?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Tenth Level Of Hell

Or maybe it's supposed to be the Tenth Circle of Hell. I forget. Been a long time since I read Dante.

I don't put much store in horoscopes, but I found this writer horoscope on another blog this morning and read it for entertainment value only. The part that got me (I'm Scorpio) was this:

On the 6th, Mars enters fellow water sign Pisces, and begins its month-long transit through your fifth house of creativity. This transit triggers all kinds of activity concerning your creative endeavors. You may be working longer hours to complete a book, gain insights into plot structure and characters, or land a new project. This period will be your strongest time for writing. Your challenge will be to stay focused because there will be plenty of distractions.

Okay, yeah, if you read all the horoscopes, they say about the same thing - different days that are productive and optimum writing times - but guess what today is? Yup. The 6th. And guess where my head is? Oh yeah, so in the WIP it's ridiculous. And all the sudden, too. For the past week, I've been stalled. Last weekend I wrote like a fiend - a scene between my hero and (one of) my villain(s). After I ended this long, emotional, drawn out scene (hero reluctantly meets with the man who was convicted of killing his child) I couldn't go on. I'd written myself into a corner and I didn't know how to get out of it. I've spent this crazy week trying to figure out where I went wrong. And last night - at Gremlin #2's baseball practice, as I was standing in the sun watching, I realized my problem. Motivation. I hadn't clearly defined my villain's motivation for agreeing to this discussion. What does he want? What is he getting out of it? The man's in prison. Why did he agree to this meeting? And then, bam, it hit me. And it makes perfect sense. Of course, to be able to go on, I have to go back and add in a few critical scenes early on (this is why I HAVE to write in order and why I HAVE to go back and fix known errors before I can move forward - because without these critical scenes, nothing else in the book makes sense.) Did I get a chance to last night? No. Life was too busy and chaotic. My plan is (was) to do that today.

So what does all of this have to do with Dante and the Tenth Level of Hell? Oh...you are going to be so sorry you asked (or wondered).

Let me give you a glimpse of the Tenth Level. Gremlin #2 wakes up last night at 12:30 am because he can't sleep. No, he doesn't wake up, he wakes up SCREAMING. The only way to keep him quiet so he doesn't wake up everyone else in the house is to let him sleep in our bed. Correction...he sleeps on MY side of the bed. Practically on top of me. Hence, I do not sleep.

Upon waking, Gremlin #2 then begins to scream about a cut on his chin. Which the band-aid is not healing. And a cut on his lip. Which hurts so bad he's obviously dying a slow and painful death. We're talking major trauma here. My offering to cut his face off to solve the problem only causes more screaming. The DH looks at me and asks where my motherly instincts have gone. Straight faced, I reply, "I'm pretty sure I don't have any."

Gremlin #1 gets dressed for school and when told her shorts are too short (because, after all, it's summer and one sunny day means everyone and their dog has to wear shorts) goes into a screaming fit about school rules and how stupid they are and how on earth would her mother know the rules in the first place? It's a conspiracy to make her life a living hell (welcome to my world, daughter).

Gremlin #3 is the only happy one in the group. Happy for him includes running around with his Batman mask and cape and growling at the top of his lungs. Which, of course, makes Gremlin #1 scream louder, and Gremlin #2 cry even more.

And the whole time this happening, the DH is complaining because he's supposed to be on a conference call in his office, yet the noise level in the house is so high it's causing him to want to break open the Crown Royal at 8AM and drink himself into oblivion. (Wait! That's my line!)

And doesn't it all just figure that the stars and moons have aligned on THIS day to wreak havoc on my life and turn my children into the scariest looking-and-acting Gremlins when all I want to do is sit and work out this problem in the WIP that I have so suddenly discovered a solution for?

*sigh*

Tenth Level of Hell. I tell you.

Sadder still is I forsee no writing this weekend. We're headed to the beach with my extended family. While I'm looking forward to it, all I want to do is write, which I will not be able to do.

A wise woman said to me the other day something along the lines of: Without the chaos of your family you'd have nothing to write for. She is, of course, right. And it burns my ass she's right so often (you know who you are). I love the family dearly and ultimately write for and because of them, I just haven't quite figured out how to juggle it all. It's something I struggle with every day. I don't know how full-time working mothers are able to write. I'm in awe of them.

For those of you who complain about being distracted in your lives -be it from work or chores or the dog that won't leave you alone, remember my Tenth Level of Hell. If you think you're distracted, I will gladly send you my Three Gremlins for a day so you can experience real distraction.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It all started innocently enough ...

I got an e-mail from a friend the other day. One of those that makes the rounds of the friends in your address book. It was a woman's warning to watch out for thieves who stole your thighs (and other body parts such as your fanny and upper arms) in the night and replaced them with body parts that resembled saggy, cooked oatmeal.

I chuckled and felt kinda smug that I was in pretty good shape for a woman "my age." In fact, I rarely think about my age unless I start rattling off something that happened 30 or 40 or 50 years ago and get blank looks. Then I realize I'm talking to people who haven't been around for as long as me.

In the meantime, a friend had taken some photos of me for my writing Web site. When I received the CD with the photos, I realized what was wrong. A thief had stolen my face in the night and replaced it with something that resembled saggy, cooked oatmeal!

All my smugness dissolved in the horror of tears. Where was the firm jaw? The taunt eyelids? The smooth cheeks? (Not those cheeks!) I could airbrush the photos or soften the lighting. But what was I going to do with the actual face?

Could I apply the "cures" for writer's block to this thievery? Walking, driving, bathing behind locked doors, and external deadlines have all been suggested in recent posts as ways to kick-start your writing. Those seemed like possibilities, and I also thought of these:
-- Write through it (trowel on enough make-up to fill in the wrinkles)
-- Fake it until you make it (smile and ignore references that I'm beginning to resemble an albino prune or wear a paper bag over my head)
-- Know that the villain will get what he deserves (no more senior citizen discount) and the heroine will live happily ever after (would tape at the hairline give me a headache?)

Other suggestions? Or maybe I should ditch the idea of putting my photo on my Web site and use one of my dogs. Got some great shots of the dogs!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Show Us Your Best Side

First up . . . Best side of the blog. Ch-Ch-Changes are in store for the blog. You should have already gotten an email from me on the Chapter Loop. Starting in the next week or so, every Tuesday and Thursday, I'll be sharing Chapter news and News from our MWVRWA members. (Not an MWVRWA member??? It's easy! Go to our chapter site!) I'll be sharing news of latest releases, award wins, author profiles and other fun stuff. If you want me to share your news, I'll happily post it for you.

This gives you. the loyal readers, new content everyday, but it gives our member bloggers a bit more of a break between posts. We'll try this format out and see whether it works or not--please feel free to post your opinions as the new changes unfold!

So, as exciting as it is, a post just about blog changes would be b-o-r-i-n-g, and a bit of a downer following the always amazing Alice. Never fear! I have more to talk about!
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In the latest issue of RWR, there's a great article about contests. The article has great tips for picking contests, what to expect from them, and how to run them. However, the article only briefly touches on one of my contest pet-peeves--First Chapter Overload. Nearly every contest focuses on the first few pages or first chapter(s). Now, I understand the reasoning behind this--it's hard to read something out of order, editors and agents typically look at the first chapters, and you need to hook your reader quickly. However, this type of contest tends to reward the meet-cute and/or the dead body in the middle of the room type of formulaic openings. Which is great--I LOVE to read this type of book, and I love a good meet-cute and/or obvious danger as well as any other romance lover, BUT it's not the only opening style.

Of course, I can be prickly about this point because my books typically take a little bit more to establish the true meat of the romance. I'm working on improving my hooks (all Danita's great hook posts helped!) but I still long for more variety among contests. So imagine my delight when I scanned the list of contests in the back of RWR and discovered several non-traditional contests lurking out there!

In other months, I have seen contests for best love scenes, best banter, and other non-traditional contests. I'd like to see these contests flourish (obviously, I'm biased) so I'm highlighting them.

But, I think the deeper issue this raises for me, is how we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Every author has the part of the book that she feels the most confident. For me, that part comes some where around Chapter Six-through the middle of the book. (Now whether that says that my first six chapters should be axed is a whole different post). I feel that my strength is in dialog, and it takes a few chapters to get the characters and plot underway so that the individual scenes take on a life of their own. I'm also pretty confident about my love scenes and my endings--I enjoy writing these, so that increases my faith in these sections.

What would your IDEAL contest showcase? What part of your books are you the most confident about? What parts do you love to write? What parts make you the most nervous? Do traditional contests show your book in its best light? Share your thoughts!

Monday, April 02, 2007

TAKE A HIKE

If you show up at the Brownsville park anytime between 2:00 and 4:00 most days, you will find a preoccupied looking middle aged woman walking an elderly yellow lab. She will be deep in thought, so approach with care.

A little earlier that day, she was writing, you see, and she got stuck. So she played 53 games of TextTwist and that didn't help. Did she despair? Sure she did, for awhile, anyway, and then she took matters into her own hands.

Er, feet.

She went on a walk. And during that walk, she talked to herself about what was happening with those people in her head. Why they did this or said that. Why it seemed as though they were actors on a stage and they'd just forgotten not only their lines, but the stage direction. What was wrong? What did they need?

Or, perhaps the problem was a what-comes-next kind of deal. Or, a personal favorite of hers, why or how did that happen? Why is she afraid? Why is he insisting on changing the venue of an important meeting? What was in the envelope? Wait, if that was in the envelope, what happened to it?

Everyone knows I sell on a proposal that includes three chapters and a synopsis. And I write long synopsis because that's what they want from me. But that doesn't mean I KNOW everything that is happening and it also doesn't mean characters aren't going to go off on a wild hair, i.e., I am going to think of something better, something more exciting, etc… as I write. So, "They storm the castle," in the synopsis turns into a cascade of issues. How do they storm the castle? How do they get inside? What does it look like? Who tries to stop them? Do they wind up being caught? What does the inside of a friggin castle look like, anyway? And on and on and on…

And that's when I walk. There's something about being alone with my thoughts with my little feet carrying me along that loosens something in my brain. I don't know why but in the last two weeks it has helped %100 of the time and that's pretty amazing.

My advice, if you are stuck on a plot point, try taking a walk. And if you see me, say hi. But watch out for the dog. She's likely to throw a stick at your feet--she's a little compulsive.